Galanthus nivalis

Galanthus nivalis is the standard snowdrop, found growing at the base of hedgerows and in woods, loved as the first flower of the year and a harbinger of better weather. Native to central Europe but naturalised in many places e.g. England. Appropriately nivalis means 'of the snow'. The seed of this species has a hook shaped elaiosome (see the photo below) attractive to ants, which may encourage them to take the seed away and bury it; this is one explanation why clumps of Galanthus nivalis appear where they have not been planted; it also provides a clue to the best way to grow the seeds. Photos by David Pilling. Illustration from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany.

Galanthus nivalis, David PillingGalanthus nivalis, David PillingGalanthus nivalis, David PillingGalanthus nivalis, David PillingGalanthus nivalis, David PillingGalanthus nivalis, Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany

Time lapse by David Pilling of Galanthus nivalis, 31st January 2013.

Time lapse by David Pilling of Galanthus nivalis, Tuesday 4th February 2014, 12:56 to 17:28, flowers close as the earth rotates and the sunlight fades.

Snowdrops thrive crowded at the edges of hedges, as in photo 1 where the Leyland cypress (Cupressus x leylandii) roots take moisture from the soil. Photos 2 and 4 show how tightly these bulbs can grow, here blooming at the end of January. The close-up in photo 3 shows the characteristic V shaped green marking on the inner whorl. The outer whorl opens wide in response to light and warmth as shown in the above video. Photo 4 shows shoots at the end of November in North West England; photo 5 is a bulb; photo 6 shows the keel on the back of the leaves.

Galanthus nivalis, David PillingGalanthus nivalis, David PillingGalanthus nivalis, David PillingGalanthus nivalis shoots, David PillingGalanthus nivalis bulb, David PillingGalanthus nivalis leaf, 2nd May 2014, David Pilling

Photo 1 is a seed pod forming. Photo 2 taken at the end of May shows that seed pods end up resting on the ground, typically under the leaves; note those in the photo are still attached to the plant and growing. Photo 3 taken a couple of weeks later shows that after the stems have withered away the seed pods are still green. Eventually as in photo 4, the seed pod turns yellow and spills out ripe seed; this seed pod has been cut open photo 5 shows two opening naturally; the grid is 10 mm.

Galanthus nivalis seed pod, David PillingGalanthus nivalis seed pods, David PillingGalanthus nivalis seed pods, David PillingGalanthus nivalis seed and pod, David PillingGalanthus nivalis seed pods, David Pilling

Time lapse video by David Pilling taken between 20:27 on 14th July 2013 and 03:15 on the 16th July 2013 of Galanthus nivalis seed pods opening. The seed pods are indoors under LED lighting, with a temperature around 75-80 °F. It is quite late in the year for these to be intact. Notice how rapidly the pods decay once they have opened. Kept in a packet you'd get a dollop of nasty brown gloop.

Photos of seed, in the first an elaiosome is visible, a sweet reward to ants for distributing the seed. Seed is ephemeral and should be sown promptly. Photo 2 shows seed that has been moist stored for a few weeks; the elaiosome has rotted away. Seed was kept moist at inside room temperature until December 2013, when it was exposed to external temperatures, where some germinated immediately, photo 3 shows progress in mid February 2014. Photo 4 is a 7 cm pot of first year seedlings. Photo 5 shows a complete plant with 6" ruler.

Galanthus nivalis seed, David PillingGalanthus nivalis seed 6th August 2013, David PillingGalanthus nivalis seed 18th February 2014, David PillingGalanthus nivalis seedling, David PillingGalanthus nivalis plant, 24th February 2015, David Pilling

A key feature in distinguishing different species of snowdrop is the vernation (arrangement) of the emerging leaves. For Galanthus nivalis they are applanate, for Galanthus elwesii they are supervolute (or according to some convolute) and for Galanthus plicatus they are explicative. Photos 1 and 2 below show the leaves of Galanthus elwesii and photos 3 and 4 those of Galanthus nivalis. It is apparent the leaves of Galanthus elwesii wrap around one another. See Galanthus elwesii for more photos comparing these species.

Glanthus elwesii supervolute leaves, David PillingGlanthus elwesii supervolute leaves, David PillingGalanthus nivalis applanate leaves, David PillingGalanthus nivalis applanate leaves, David Pilling

Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' has double flowers with inner segments irregular and untidy to regular and neat. This form spreads by prolific offsets. This cultivar has been given the Award of Garden Merit from the British Royal Horticultural Society. Photos by David Pilling.

Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno', David PillingGalanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno', David PillingGalanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno', David PillingGalanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno', David PillingGalanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno', David Pilling

The first two photos show the double (left) and single versions. From above when the flowers are closed it is possible to distinguish doubles because they can't close as much and so the flower is fatter. Other differences are in the marking and the ovary at the top of the flower. Look at the third photo and see if you can spot the doubles - selecting the high resolution version of the photo will show them circled.

Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' left and ordinary version right, David PillingGalanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' left and ordinary version right, David PillingGalanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' and ordinary version, David Pilling

Galanthus nivalis 'Sandersii' is a cultivar with yellow marks on the inner segments instead of green. Photo by John Lonsdale.

Galanthus nivalis 'Sandersii', John Lonsdale
Return to the PBS wiki Galanthus
Return to the PBS wiki Photographs and Information page
Page last modified on March 01, 2015, at 10:09 AM